Siege and capture of Fort Pulaski.
Fort Pulaski after the surrender.
From a sketch made at the time.|
The capture of the forts at Port Royal
was promptly followed by the abandonment by the Confederates
of the entire coast and all the coast towns south of Charleston
, which was defended by Fort Pulaski
, at the mouth of the Savannah River
This work is of brick, with five faces, casemated on all sides, and has a wet ditch.
The walls are seven and a half feet thick, and rise twenty-five feet above high water, mounting one tier of guns in casemates and one en barbette. The gorge face is covered by a demi-lune of good relief, arranged for one tier of guns en barbette. This also has a wet ditch.
The fort is situated on Cockspur Island
, a marshy formation, surrounded by broad channels of deep water.
The nearest approach to it on tolerably firm ground is from one to two miles distant, to the south-east, along a narrow strip of shifting sands formed on Tybee Island
by the action of wind and waves.
In the light of subsequent events it is of interest to recall the fact that before operations for investing the place were begun the fort was visited by several Confederate officers of rank, formerly of the regular army, who freely expressed the opinion that the isolated position of the work, and the nature of its environs, rendered any successful siege operations against it absolutely impracticable.
The Confederate commander, Colonel Charles H. Olmstead
, appears quite naturally to have been governed by the opinions of his superior officers;1
and the measures adopted for adding strength and safety to the work were of the most meager character.
Moreover, General Joseph G. Totten
, Chief Engineer
United States Army, wrote, in reply to a letter requesting his views on the subject, that “the work could not be reduced in a month's firing with any number of guns of manageable calibers.”
I had been appointed chief engineer of the Expeditionary Corps
, and in that capacity was directed by General T. W. Sherman
, on the 29th of November, to make an examination of Tybee Island
and Fort Pulaski
, and to report upon the propriety of holding the island, and upon the practicability, and, if practicable, on the best method, of reducing the fort.
I reported that I deemed the reduction of the work practicable with batteries of mortars and rifled guns established on Tybee Island
, and recommended the occupation of the island, adding some details concerning the disposition of the batteries, the precautions to be observed in their construction, and the intensity of the fire to be delivered by them.
This project having been approved by General Sherman
and by the higher authorities, the 46th New York Infantry, Colonel Rosa
commanding, took possession of the island early in December.
In February, 1862, they were reenforced by the addition of the 7th Connecticut Infantry, two companies of New York Volunteer Engineers, and two companies of the 3d Rhode Island Artillery, and all were placed under command of Colonel
) A. H. Terry
, of the 7th Connecticut.
By the labor of these troops eleven batteries were constructed, at distances from the fort varying from 1650 to 3400 yards.2
is mostly a mud marsh, like other marsh islands on this coast, varied, however, by ridges and hummocks of firm ground.
The distance along the north shore, from the landing-place to the advanced batteries, on the sand ridge above mentioned, is about two and a half miles. Over the last mile, which is low and marshy, and within effective range of the guns of Fort Pulaski
, was constructed a causeway of fascines and brushwood.
The work of unloading on the open beach the ordnance, implements, and equipments, and of transporting them to the batteries, was in charge of Lieutenant
(afterward General) Horace Porter
, and is thus described by him:
The heavy guns were landed by lowering them from the vessels into lighters having a strong decking built across their gunwales.
They were towed ashore by row-boats at high tide, often in a heavy surf, and careened by means of a rope from shore, manned by soldiers, until the piece rolled off. At low tide this was dragged above high-water mark.
For the purpose of transporting the 13-inch mortars, weighing 17,000 pounds, a pair of skids was constructed of timber ten inches square and twenty feet long, held together by three cross-pieces, notched on. One end of the skids was lashed close under the axle of a large sling-cart, with the other end resting on the ground.
The mortar was rolled up by means of ropes until it reached the middle of the skids and chocked.
Another large sling-cart was run over the other end of the skids, which was raised by the screw, forming a temporary four-wheeled wagon.
Two hundred and fifty men were required to move it over the difficult roads by which the batteries were reached.
I can pay no greater tribute to the patriotism of the 7th Connecticut Volunteers, the troops generally furnished me for this duty, than to say that, when the sling-carts frequently sank to their hubs in the marshes, and had to be extricated by unloading the mortar, rolling it upon
planks until harder ground could be found, and then reloading it, they toiled night after night, often in a drenching rain, under the guns of the fort, speaking only in whispers, and directed entirely by the sound of a whistle, without uttering a murmur.
When drilling the same men in the mortar-batteries, they exhibited an intelligence equaled only by their former physical endurance.”
In constructing the batteries, as well as in transporting their armament, the greater part of the work was, of necessity, done under cover of night, and with the greatest caution.
The positions selected for the five advanced batteries were artificially screened from the view of the fort by almost imperceptible changes, made little by little each night, in the condition and distribution of the brushwood and bushes in front of them.
No sudden alteration in the outline of the landscape was permitted.
After the concealment had been perfected to such a degree as to permit a safe parapet behind it, less care was taken, and some of the work requiring mechanical skill was done in the daytime, the fatigue parties going to their labor before break of day and returning to camp after nightfall.
The garrison of the fort was either unsuspicious or indifferent; at any rate, the natural difficulties of our task received no increment through interference from that quarter.
The ability of their guns to punish impertinent intrusion had been already shown.
Two soldiers of the 46th New York, which had occupied the island as a precautionary measure before the siege operations began, having strolled out to
the end of the sand point nearest the fort, conceived the idea of issuing a challenge to the enemy after the fashion described in the “Adventures of Robinson Crusoe
The fort accepted the situation and replied with a shot from a Blakely gun which had recently run the blockade at Wilmington
One of the men was cut in two; the other retreated in disorder, and could not be induced to return and pay the last offices to his ill-starred comrade till after dark.
It was said that the gun was sighted by the colonel commanding.
The experiment was encouraging, but the garrison did not seem to take the hint.
Sometime after they dropped a shell near my headquarters at the light-house, but as it did not accord with our policy to exhibit any symptoms of annoyance, the attention was not repeated.
Meanwhile, in another quarter, operations for the investment of the fort, as complete as the peculiar topography of the region would permit, had been substantially completed by the establishment of two batteries of six guns each, about four miles above the fort,--one at Venus Point
, on Jones Island
, on the north bank of the Savannah River
, and the other on Bird Island
, nearly opposite.
This latter point had been fixed upon after a reconnoissance made by Lieutenant P. H. O'Rorke
, of the Engineers
, who, with Major Oliver T. Beard
, of the 48th New York, had gone in a small boat up the river as far as the west end of Elba Island
, within two miles of Fort Jackson
In addition, two companies of infantry, with three pieces of artillery, were placed on a hulk anchored in Lazaretto Creek
, about two and a quarter miles south of the fort, to intercept communication from the direction of Wassaw Sound
After all, even with the efficient aid of the vessels on the station, it was found impossible to isolate perfectly a place lying, as Fort Pulaski
does, in a wilderness of low marsh islands submerged by spring-tides, intersected by numerous tortuous channels, and covered with a rank growth of reeds and tall grass.
With light boats, small parties familiar with the locality could easily make their way from creek to creek and over the marshes by night, avoiding guards and pickets.
It was known that messengers frequently passed in this way to and from the fort, and some of them were captured.
The construction of the Venus Point battery and the transportation of its armament had been effected in the face of difficulties of the same sort as were met with on Tybee Island
, but much more discouraging.
is nothing but a mud marsh, whose general surface is about on the level of ordinary high tide, with a few spots of limited area which are submerged only by spring-tides or when the ordinary tide is favored by the wind.
Even in the most elevated places the partly dry crust is only three or four inches in depth, the substratum being a semi-fluid mud, quivering like jelly at every slight blow.
A pole or an oar can be forced into it with ease to a depth of twelve or fifteen feet, and the resistance seems to diminish with increase of penetration.
The roots of reeds and grasses partly sustain the weight of a man, so that he will sink only a few inches; but when these give way, he goes down two feet or more.
Over this unpromising tract all the materials, sand-bags, planks, etc., used in constructing the battery were carried,--about three hundred yards on a causeway of poles, and for the remaining distance by a wheel-barrow track made of planks laid end to end. On the night of February 10th, Lieutenant O'Rorke
, of the Engineers
, began the construction of the magazine and gun platforms, while Lieutenant Horace Porter
, assisted by Major Beard
, 48th New York, and Lieutenant James H. Wilson
, Topographical Engineers
, undertook the task of bringing up the guns.
A wharf of poles and sand-bags had been made in Mud River
, about 1300 yards from the battery, to which all the materials were brought in boats from Daufuskie Island
, the nearest dry land, four miles away.
It had been intended to carry the guns and ammunition for the Venus Point battery on flats through New River
and Wall's Cut into Wright River
, and thence by Mud River
into the Savannah
, under convoy of the gun-boats; but the delay threatened by tide and weather, and the probability of encountering torpedoes, for which the vessels were not prepared, determined a change of plan; and it was decided, without depending on the gun-boats, to tow the flats to the Mud River wharf
, and haul the guns across the marsh.
The landing was made without accident; and the pieces, mounted on their carriages and limbered
up, were moved forward on shifting runways of 3-inch planks laid end to end. Lieutenant Wilson
, with thirty-five men, took charge of the two pieces in advance, and Major Beard
and Lieutenant Porter
, with a somewhat larger force, of the four other pieces.
Each party had two planks in excess of the number required for the guns and limbers when closed together.
Fort Pulaski from turtle Island (see map, page 3), Tybee light-house in the left distance.
From a War-time sketch.|
pair of planks was successively taken up from the rear and laid down in front as the guns were moved forward.
By some mistake the men detailed for this work had already been on duty for twenty-four hours, and were in no condition for such fatiguing service.
They sank to their knees at every step.
The planks soon became slippery with mud, and were hauled forward with drag-ropes; the wheels frequently slipped off, sinking to the hubs, to be replaced only by the greatest exertions.
The last gun had been landed at 10 o'clock, and by 2 A. M. two pieces had crossed about one-fourth of the marsh, and the men were utterly exhausted.
The guns were concealed by reeds and grass and left until the next night, when a fresh detail carried them through to their position, crossing the worst part of the marsh and repeating all the experiences of the previous night.
By half-past 8 on the morning of the 12th the battery was ready for service.
The Bird Island
battery was established eight days later, the crossing being made on the night of the 20th.
The Venus Point battery was tested on the morning of the 13th, when the rebel steamer Ida
passed down under full steam.
In firing nine shots at her, all the guns but one recoiled off the platforms.
These were at once enlarged to double their former size.
was unhurt, but preferred to return to Savannah
by another route.
On the next day three gun-boats engaged the battery for a short time, withdrawing after one of them was struck.3
The first vessel, with ordnance and ordnance stores for the siege, had arrived in Tybee Roads on the 21st of February, and on the 9th of April the batteries were ready to open fire.
Lieutenant Horace Porter
So much were the preparations hurried for opening the bombardment, that we could not wait for many of the ordnance stores that had been ordered from the North.
were made out of copper from the metallic cases in which the desiccated vegetables are received.
Columbiad shells were strapped with strips of old tents, rough blocks being used for sabots.
A large party was kept working day and night, during the bombardment, making 10-inch Columbiad cartridge-bags, and wooden fuse-plugs for 10-inch mortars, in which paper fuses were used.
The men engaged in making the fuse-plugs were mostly Connecticut
Yankees, and it was interesting to observe, in the expression of supreme content that settled upon their countenances, the manifest relief afforded by the change from the day and night toil of moving and mounting guns to the congenial employment of whittling.4
Once, in passing, Lieutenant Porter
asked how they were getting along.
“Thank ye, Leftenant; we're undergoin‘ a consid'able degree o‘ comfort.”
General orders were issued on the afternoon of the 9th, prescribing for each battery its point of attack, the rate of firing, and the charges and elevation of the pieces.
The mortars were to drop their shells over and within the faces of the work; the fire of the guns should be directed partly against the barbette guns of the fort, and to take the gorge and north walls in reverse, but mainly upon the pan-coupe joining the south and south-east faces, with the double view of opening a practicable breach for assault and of exposing to a reverse fire the magazine in the opposite angle.
With one or two exceptions, it was not found necessary to change these orders during the whole course of the bombardment.
One officer, a German, commanding a battery, so far failed to imbibe the spirit of the order, that when the moment for opening fire came, he mounted the parapet on the flank of his battery, drew his sword with a melodramatic clash and flourish, and let off all his guns in one volley.
The effect was grievously marred by the fact that in his enthusiasm he had overlooked instructions which he had personally received, to open embrasures through the sand ridge forming his parapet as the last thing before firing.
Naturally the shot, glancing from the slope, took any direction but the one intended, part of them landing as far from the fort as they were when they left the pieces.
The same officer, by the way, afterward expressed the hope that the methods pursued in the siege of Fort Pulaski
would not become known in military circles in Europe
, lest, being in violation of all the rules laid down in the books, they should bring discredit upon American military engineering.
Just after sunrise on the morning of the 10th, Major-General David Hunter
, commanding the department (of the South
), sent a flag under Lieutenant James H. Wilson
to the fort, with a summons to surrender.
briefly declined to comply with the demand, saying that he was there “to defend the fort, not to surrender it.”
The first shell was fired at a quarter-past 8 o'clock A. M., from Battery Halleck, about the middle of the line, and by half-past 9 all the batteries were in operation, each mortar firing at fifteen-minute intervals, and the guns from two to three times as rapidly.
The enemy replied vigorously, though at first not very accurately, with his barbette and casemate guns, following up our line as the batteries successively disclosed their position.
It appeared subsequently that he knew the exact position of only two of our batteries — Nos. 5 and 6, which had been established with no special attempt at concealment.
By 1 o'clock in the afternoon it became evident that, unless our guns should suffer seriously from the enemy's fire, a breach would be effected: with a, glass it could be seen that the rifled projectiles were surely eating their way into the scarp of the pan-coupe and adjacent south-east face.
When the firing ceased for the night, after nine and a half hours duration, the commencement of a breach was plainly visible.
It was equally manifest, to the surprise and disappointment of all experienced officers present, that the 13-inch mortars,
though carefully and fairly well served, were from some cause practically inefficient, not more than one-tenth of the shells falling within the fort.
It was clear that for the reduction of the work we should have to depend on breaching alone, ending, perhaps, in an assault.
An assault was really impracticable, owing to the lack of boats to carry the troops, although these could have been procured from the navy after considerable delay.
To increase the security of our advanced batteries, a constant fire against the barbette guns of the fort had been kept up through the day. Two of these guns were disabled and three casemate guns silenced.
During the night two or three pieces were kept at work to prevent the enemy from repairing the damage he had sustained.
Shortly after sunrise on the 11th our batteries again opened with vigor and accuracy, the enemy returning a resolute and well-directed fire.
A detachment of seamen, furnished by Captain C. R. P. Rodgers
, of the Wabash
, who personally superintended their service, had been assigned to one of the most important batteries, where their skill and experience were applied with telling effect.
By noon the first two casemates in the south-east face were opened to their full width, our shots passing through the timber blind-age in their rear and reaching the magazine at the north-west angle of the fort.
It was plain that a few hours' work of this kind would clear away the scarp wall to a greater width than the small garrison could defend against assault, and preparations for storming were ordered.
Meanwhile our guns were pounding at the next casemate, which was fast crumbling away, puffs of yellow dust marking the effect of shot and shell, when, at 2 o'clock, a white flag was shown, and the colors, fluttering for a few minutes at half-mast, came slowly down.
I was directed to receive the surrender, and crossed to the fort for that purpose.
The articles were signed that afternoon, and the place occupied by our troops, between whom and the late garrison the best of feeling prevailed.6
Many a jest and repartee passed between them.
One Georgian, of a sarcastic bent, recalled the ancient myth of wooden nutmegs.
“We don't make them
of wood any longer,” retorted a Connecticut man, pointing to a 10-inch shot that one of our Columbiads had sent through the wall.
Among the articles of capitulation was one providing that the sick and wounded should be sent under a flag of truce to the Confederate
This article General Hunter
declined to ratify, and the whole garrison were sent as prisoners to the forts in New York harbor.
The garrison was found to consist of 385 men,7
including a full complement of officers.
Several of them were severely, and one fatally, wounded.
Our own loss was limited to one man, killed through his own neglect of the proper precautions.
The full armament of the fort was 140 guns.
At the time of the siege it contained 48, of which 20 bore on Tybee Island
After the position of our several batteries became known to the enemy, each of these guns was trained on a particular point, and was served unvaryingly in that direction.
Our men soon learned the point of attack of each gun, and were warned by the cry of “Cover!”
when a shot was coming.
They took great satisfaction in seeing visitors to the batteries dodge at false alarms, in their pursuit of amusement, not always respecting even high rank.
In all, 16 of these 20 guns were silenced by our fire, while not one of our pieces was struck.
During the siege our batteries fired 5275 shots, of which 3543 were from the 20 guns and 1732 from the 16 mortars.
We were provided with ammunition for a week's firing, of which about one-fifth was expended.
The effect of our fire upon the walls of the fort is interesting, as the first example, in actual warfare, of the breaching power of rifled ordnance at long
Not only were the two casemates opened to an aggregate width of thirty feet, but the scarp wall was battered down in front of three casemate piers, and the adjacent wall on each side was so badly shattered that a few hours' firing would have doubled the width of practicable breach, a ramp of debris reaching to the foot of the counterscarp.
In repairing the work subsequently, one hundred linear feet of wall had to be rebuilt.
A messenger who escaped from the fort just before the surrender succeeded in making his way over the creeks and marshes, and carried to Savannah
, fifteen miles up the river, the news that the fort had fallen.8
The consternation was supreme.
All hope of saving
Views of Fort Pulaski after the surrender.
the city seemed lost, and the citizens began to secure themselves by sending their families and property into the interior.
Their confidence in the ability
of Fort Pulaski
to sustain a siege had been absolute.
General Henry C. Wayne
, of the Confederate army, who was in Savannah
at the time, was one of the first to doubt, and met with the usual fortune of prophets of evil in times of intense popular feeling.
He had been an officer in the regular army, and his experience had taught him to distinguish the sound of guns at different distances and fired in opposite directions.
As his trained ear noted how, from hour to hour, the guns pointed toward the city kept up their steady volume, while the intervals of reply grew longer and longer, he told the citizens on the second day that the guns of the fort were being gradually silenced, and that it could not hold out. Out of incredulity grew a suspicion that “the wish was father to the thought,” and indignation was fast tending toward personal violence, when the truth became known, and the wrath of the people was lost in their fears.
The result of this victory was to close the Savannah River
entirely to blockade-runners, and to set free for service elsewhere the naval force which had been employed there.